Time to Think the Unthinkable in the Drugs War

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

Time to Think the Unthinkable in the Drugs War


Byline: Sebastian Shakespeare

HERE we go again. Should drugs be legalised? After a century of declaring war on narcotics, surely the time has come to just say yes. Bob Ainsworth MP may not be the most persuasive or eloquent candidate to front a decriminalisation campaign (I wouldn't want to buy any drugs from him) but it is good he has revived the debate.

I played my own small part in the global fight against drugs. In the summer of 1984 I spent three months in the Amazon jungle working for the Save the Children Fund. Part of my duty was to introduce Indians to soya beans and wean them off the coca leaf (which is turned into coca paste for the manufacture of cocaine). The logic was simple: coca is bad, soya is good. My intentions could not have been more honourable.

But only 15 years later did I come to realise what appalling environmental damage I'd wreaked. The soya beans were the worst thing I could have inflicted on the Indians -- far worse than a STD. Today's mass deforestation of the Amazon is largely caused by Western demands for cheap palm oil, beef and soya. China's demand for soya to feed its chickens and pigs has skyrocketed; Brazil alone supplies 25 per cent of the global soya market.

My contribution to the soya revolution made me realise how wrongheaded we are in the West. I had not only deprived the Indians of a better income but literally sowed the seeds of the Amazon's destruction. …

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